TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
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In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
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Think about Alec Baldwin. Go ahead, don't be afraid. Take a deep breath and brave the terrors of his haunting aura. You're picturing him yelling, aren't you? Admit it — and it's not just because we've influenced your thread of conscious thought with the particularly shouty image embedded to the left. It's because he's a yeller. In movies, on television, and in his highly spotlit personal life, Baldwin is known for his temper. That's why we're particularly engaged with the idea of him taking on a primetime MSNBC program — a transaction that Mediaite reports is presently in the works. Because what environment is less conducive to yelling than a political talk show?
The series, which will reportedly air Friday nights at 10 PM, could be Baldwin's first official televised outlet for his well-known liberal politics. A place where he can put his ideologies, and his knack for high-volume personal expression, to the test.
Of course, now that he'll be a professional, Baldwin will have to ration out his tirades appropriately. So how much hostility should we expect if...
... a guest disagrees with his social policies? Maybe something like this:
... a guest insults Baldwin's preferred political candidate? Perhaps somewhere around this neighborhood:
... a guest doesn't show up for an interview? Ech, that's a doozy:
Of course, every once in a while, Baldwin might invite a guest host on the show to yell for him. Luckily, he keeps pretty yelly company:
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Sorry, everyone, but Tuesday night the only thing you will be allowed to watch on television is the results of the presidential election as they slowly roll in from across this great nation of ours. Yes, that means field reporting, concession speeches, red and blue states on a big old poster behind the anchor desk, and pundits turning red in their faces when the races don't go their way.
Even if you can't tell the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and a donkey and an elephant fighting over pizza and burritos, you're going to have to watch something. But what? Here are all your major choices, broken down by what to expect and what is the best for you. If you're going to be stuck with journalists, you might as well find some that you like.
Talent: Diane Sawyer, George (copy, paste) Stephanopoulos, Barbara Walters, and Katie Couric
Pros: Sawyer and Stephanopoulos have both actually worked in the White House, so that is some real K Street cred right there. With Walters and Kouric they'll have a nice balance of hard and soft news. Also, they have a lot of female reporters. It's almost as if they had a binder, and it was full of women, and that's who they put on the show.
Cons: Walters and Kouric have devolved into daytime chatterers. They might not be able to deliver the gravitas an occasion like this merits. And seriously, can't we just put Barbara Walters on Social Security already and make her give up a place at the anchor desk? Oh, wait, not if Mitt Romney wins and there is no more Social Security. Never mind.
Watch This If...: You think The View is hard-hitting journalism.
Talent: Scott Pelley, Bob Schieffer, Norah O'Donnell, John Dickerson
Pros: Bob Schieffer moderated one of the debates, so he might have some insights. The network will be using virtual reality models to display the election results. I don't know what that means, but "virtual reality" always sounds like the future.
Cons: What is a Scott Pelley? Who are these people?
Watch This If...: You are old and can't find NCIS.
Talent: Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw, David Gregory, Savannah Guthrie, Andrea Mitchell, Tamron Hall
Pros: Everyone will be reporting from a place called Democracy Plaza, which sounds like what the inside of a voting booth should be like. Either that or a politics-themed restaurant in Times Square. There will be a lot of really deep voices, so your dog won't be able to hear a thing. It's also the only major network to bring back a returning anchor, so thanks, Brokaw. Oh, and have you seen Brian Williams on 30 Rock? He brings the funny.
Cons: Tamron Hall will be reporting from the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink. We are already embarrassed for her. Also, no one likes Savannah Guthrie (especially Ann Curry).
Watch This If...: You want to be like the cast of Girls.
Talent: Bill O'Reilly, Greta Van Susteren, Brit Hume, Chris Wallace, Sarah Palin, Karl Rove
Pros: If Mitt Romney loses, they'll freak out so bad it will look like a million nervous breakdowns at once.They're the only ones to have a former candidate in the newsroom.
Cons: That candidate is Sarah Palin. Also, Karl Rove, a lugey of human phlegm that came to life, will share his evil ways. That could be insightful but is also like making out with Emperor Palpatine. And, just like MSNBC, this broadcast has a political bias. Unlike MSNBC, they're not bothered by those little things called facts.
Watch This If...: You hate truth, liberty, and the American way.
Talent: Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Candy Crowley, Erin Burnett, Paul Begala, James Carville, Alex Castellanos, Ari Fleischer, Margaret Hoover, Van Jones, Roland Martin and Ana Navarro. Is there anyone they didn't hire?
Pros: Since it's a news network, you can watch it all darn day so you can get all the sweet political news you need to stay alive. Also, it tries to be fair and balanced, which is nice. You never know when Cooper is going to lapse into a fit of the giggles and Begala and Carville are the funniest talking heads in all of punditville.
Cons: Who wants their news balanced? Tell me what to think, news! I'm stupid and need some opinions. Also, remember last election when Wolf Blitzer talked to a hologram. Yeah, that's gone. I already miss it.
Watch This If...: Like Anderson, you'd rather be watching Real Housewives.
Talent: Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Rev. Al Sharpton, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, Steve Schmidt
Pros: If there was ever a pro, it's Rev. Al Sharpton. If Obama wins, he'll go crazy. If Romney wins, he'll go double crazy. Stay tuned! Also, Matthews will yell and Maddow will say lots of smart and vaguely mean things that are totally right.
Cons: There doesn't seem to be any virtual reality, holograms, reincarnated robots of William Taft, or anything. Where are the bells and whistles?
Watch This If...: You wear glasses.
Pros: Well, it's unfiltered, unbiased coverage of the democratic process.
Cons: That sounds more dry and boring than a dump truck full of Shredded Wheat.
Watch This If...: You hate fun.
Talent: Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert
Pros: Screw taping, these guys are going live! That means the funny is going to be fast, furious, and possibly NSFW (damn those seven-second delays). Also, Colbert's half hour is called Election 2012: A Nation Votes, Ohio Decides; The Re-Presidenting of America: Who Will Replace Obama? ‘012!. Yup, I'd watch that. Oh, and he'll have Andrew Sullivan too.
Cons: Their coverage starts at 11 PM, so you have nothing to watch until then. But, then again, if you have a life outside of watching boring political reporting on TV, then that is actually a pro. They each only get 30 minutes. Boo!
Watch This If...: You think The Onion is real.
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[Photo Credit: Getty Images (2), Comedy Central]
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Update: We knew it was only a matter of time before HBO gave the go-ahead for the drama about a cable news show from producers Scott Rudin and Aaron Sorkin. With news that Sorkin shadowed Chris Matthews and the recently ousted news commentator Keith Olbermann in order to pen his pilot, we knew the momentum from The Social Network would create a perfect storm of demand for the show. The green light has been lit and the project will begin filming later this year.
Earlier: Aaron Sorkin, high off his seemingly endless acclaim and success thanks to his work on The Social Network, hasn't had much time for other projects in the last few months, but he's managed to have a few talks with HBO about bringing his next brainchild to fruition. Sorkin's top-notch workplace dramas and dramedies, Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip all offered behind-the-scenes views on the things we all watch day in and day out, television, sports and politics. Now Sorkin looks to continue that trend with a show about the inner workings of a nightly cable news show.
Sorkin hasn't yet inked a deal with the premium channel, but let's be honest here; he wrote one the screenplay for one of the most talked about films this year. Who wouldn't hedge their bets on Sorkin at this point? According to Deadline, the project is "on track" to become a pilot for HBO. This could be good news for another Sorkin show; his last endeavor, Studio 60, was well-written (obviously) but didn't have the manpower behind it or the following it deserved, but with HBO pulling the strings, his latest television project may fare better this time.